Express Lane To Your Competitor

I thought about titling this blog The Express Lane From Hell.  I am sure everyone reading this knows what I’m talking about. You go into your local supermarket to pick up a couple of items, or in grocery store speak SKUs, only to find the check out lines are 15 people deep.

This is what happened to me when I entered a Safeway store yesterday.

The reason I wanted to distinguish the difference between an item and an SKU is that we’ve all seen those scanning guns at check out that they use on the bar scan. I am sure we have all seen that if you have 10 of the same item they can merely scan one label and punch in 10x on the keyboard.

Now back to the story.

Yesterday I got into the “express lane” at a Safeway supermarket where there were 16 people waiting in a line that was cash only, 15 items or less.

I don’t know. I thought it was kind of funny the number of people waiting in line exceeded the number items allowed at check out. Boy was I about to be taught a lesson.

I watched curiously as I was virtually racing myself if I had stayed in the “normal” line that was 11 people deep with the average SKU count over 100.

It was a virtual neck in neck as my place in line went from 16 to 10, 10 to 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.

When I was finally greeted at the check out, after typing in my loyalty award number at the terminal, the clerk scanned my items and said, “How many of these are there?”

I said, “Six.” Then he scanned one item and typed in six.

Next item, he said, “How many of these do you have?

I said, “Four.” He scanned one item and typed in four.

Final item he said, “How many of these do you have?”

I said, “Six.” He scanned one item and typed in six.

Transaction complete.

Each of these particular items, I will admit, was a bottle of wine packed handily in a six pack wine tote.

The checker only technically had to handle three items, three scans, with three register keystrokes. Total sale = $318. Now, you can all see what’s coming next.

On the clerk’s screen it says 16 items, total $318.

He looks at me and says, “You know, sir, you are over the limit for the express lane.”

I said to him, “ You’re kidding me, right?”

He said, “No, the management reads the print outs and I get reprimanded anytime anyone has over 15 items.”

I said, “True, however it was only three SKUs that you rang up, so it was technically three items, and it took you far less time than the 15 people in front of me who had between 11 – 12 items each.”

He said, “That’s not the point.”

I said, “Ok, let me get this straight. We both agree that my transaction, while technically over the limit, was far quicker than any of the customers in front of me.”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Since every one of my items was a bottle of wine, this faster transaction is certainly the highest grossing revenue than the 15 customers in front of me.”

He said, “Yes.”

Then I said, “I understand that you make more on wine than any other product in the store so its the highest margin than any other transaction in front of me.”

He said, “It certainly is, sir.”

I said, “You can see I am a Safeway top tier loyalty member, thus, the discount that your register showed.”

He said, “Oh, yes, I see that. Thank you for your loyalty.”

Then I said, “But in spite of that, because you are more concerned about getting reprimanded, you take it upon yourself to reprimand me that I am technically over the limit for your express lane.”

He said, “Well yes sir, after all, it is 16 items and this is the express lane.”

I said, “Yes, this is the express lane to the competition.”

I hit cancel on my terminal and walked out of the store.

Remember, well-intended policies often times do not play out at the front line as we designed them.

I’ve talked about how organizations that use technology need to empower their people to be smarter than an app. Time and time again I see organizations fail at the customer touch point because the lack of development and flexibility provided to the front line. Moreover, when the front line fears their supervisor, the only person they have to take it out on is the customer. This type of leadership environment creates the customer experience and employee engagement stories that leave you with the feeling of, “Hey pal, if you think this is bad you ought to try working here.”

For me, I used to take these bad experiences out on the front line. Now I use them as a source of stories, while voting with my wallet and my feet.

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